1.5. How the “America-in-Decline” Narrative Messes with Our Heads

The story we Americans like to tell ourselves about our country is pretty much designed to make us feel anxious about the present, and the future.

Here’s a little story we Americans like to tell ourselves about our country.

We started out as a plucky colony who booted out the British, and founded a democracy to preserve our freedoms.

We had our fair share of growing pains. But we kept at it, beat the Nazis in history’s greatest throwdown, and emerged as the world’s superpower and defender of the free world, a position we continue to hold to this day.

Regardless of how much truth there is to it, it’s a story we tell ourselves over and over again.

It’s a story of a meteoric rise, with an uncertain ending.

It’s a story that’s pretty much designed to make us feel anxious about the present, and the future.

We don’t talk about it. We usually talk instead about how the media and our politicians exploit our fears—which of course they do.

But they wouldn’t be so successful if it wasn’t for this story, that basically sets us up to expect a decline.

This story is one of the first things we learn as a child. It really shapes how we make sense of what’s happening to us.

We know the history. We know great powers rise and fall. If the rise has already happened…when’s the fall going to come?

I’m not saying all our problems are made up. They aren’t.

But some of them are. And the problems that really do exist, we’re prone to exaggerating just how dire they are.

So don’t let that story about America’s rise turn you into a nervous wreck. Don’t let that dark expectation turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

America’s taken plenty of temporary steps backward in the past. But they haven’t stopped us from continuing to move forward.

Who says we have to decline? Who says our best days are in the past?

With great power comes great responsibility. As long as we’re the superpower, it’s our job to be worthy of that title.

This is a rapidly changing, globalizing world. Our institutions were founded in the old world. They need to be revamped. We can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. But fear’s the first thing we’re going to have to overcome. Because if we’re wrestling with our fears, then we aren’t wrestling with the real problems that need fixing. And the solutions we come up with are going to be designed to make us feel better, instead of actually making the world better.

 

This is the 17th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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